Tornados that carried away crops and damaged houses in bygone Ulster


WHILE summer sunshine may not have been with us to date for as long as we would like, the weather is still a far cry from the Carrick tornado of 1775.

The remarkable phenomenon occurred on September 2, 1775, when an ominous black cloud appeared above Divis Mountain in Belfast.

A short time later, it separated into two distinct parts, one moving on the northern side of the mountain and the one which was to cause severe damage locally coming down towards the Shankill district of the city.

The account is detailed by Samuel McSkimin in his history of Carrickfergus, published originally in 1811.

McSkimin highlights that the tornado carried up ten cocks or stooks of hay, resulted in terrified reapers fleeing from its path.

It then caused damage near Whitehouse and when it arrived at Carrick carried away hay and corn which had been cut in the fields “having twirled them in the air in a most singular manner.”

Several trees were uprooted near Woodburn Bridge, while at Windmill Hill on the outskirt of Carrick several people were physically lifted from the ground and ended up in a nearby ditch.

More corn and hay including several hayricks were carried away by the devastating whirlwind, but at Duff’s Hill the wind entered a house through an open door and knocked down the rear of the property, leaving only the front standing.

The tornado then moved across Kilroot and Broadisland with similar effect in the hay fields, but at Larne Lough it became even more dramatic; McSkimin says that “it lifted up the waters till they appeared like floating white clouds, and transported them to a considerable distance”

It also touched more landfall on part of Islandmagee, causing more damage, before it disappeared over the North Channel.

The land which the tornado travelled across was about half a mile in breadth, according to the historian’s estimate.

It was then succeeded in its wake by lightning, heavy peals of thunder and then rain or hail.

“The hail, or rather masses of ice, fell in a great variety of irregular shapes: several pieces measured upwards of six inches in circumference,” McSkimin related.

An account in the Belfast News Letter, meanwhile, reveals that there was a second tornado in Carrick in June 1834.

The report details that around 4pm “a cloud of singularly black and ominous appearance was seen floating towards the northern part of Kilroot, two miles from Carrickfergus. Presently a vivid flash of forked lightning was observed to issue from the cloud, and followed by deep roll of thunder, during which the cloud advanced with singular rapidity in the direction of a farm house,”

It detailed that two young persons became greatly alarmed by the thunder, which was followed by a loud whirring noise.

They ran away and tried to find some shelter in a nearby house, but were lifted by “a sudden jerk from the ground” and ended up over a hedge in the next field, thankfully unharmed.

But an unfortunate hen near them was taken up in the wind and thrown down some distance away dead.

The house was then struck by the wind, which, having damaged a fence at the front, carried the thatch from the roof and part of the scraws or sods underneath and, according to the newspaper report, carried them off like an enormous bale.

Inside the house, the wind broke Delph on a dresser and exited through the roof of the building.

Cattle in the fields also fled as the winds approached, but the incident was over in less than a minute, it seemed.

“On the 2d September, 1775, similar tornado passed over in nearly the same direction, and with nearly similar awful effect” the paper informed its readers.

Although tornadoes are regarded as unusual weather phenomenon, British has been hit on other occasions by them in the past; the most damaging were believed to be in England in 1810, while several people died when a tornado struck Chester and Barry in Wales in October 1913.

In December 1954 six tornadoes were confirmed over England on one day and in 2014 a tornado was also recorded in England.

Tornadoes usually occur in particularly violent thunderstorms.

Nothing quite as devastating as the 1775 and 1834 tornados have been recorded since, although in the summer of 1893, on a cloudless, warm sunny day a whirlwind was observed in the Ballycarry area, raising hay in a hayfield in a spiral column which was said to have extended upwards of 30 feet into the air